Category Archives: 9/11

On that singular day

I saw Greg Louganis dive in St. Louis
in 1984. Oh, the way he folded and
unfolded in the air. We all gasped
when he split the surface and disappeared.
But he rose up in a shimmering swath
of bubbles, unbounded joy.

Seventeen years later, a man steps out
through the lattice of a skyscraper and
folds himself into a breathtaking pike.
An anonymous diver, abandoning his
day job. Maybe you’ve seen the
photograph? A single body falling, white
oxford full and fluttering, like a peony,
blowsy, on that singular day.

–“The Diver,” Christine Hartzler

Today I am in my late twenties again.

Today I am waking up early in my town in the American southwest to the sound of people shouting on my apartment complex balcony. It is a day I can sleep in. I am working the late shift. I am not pleased to wake up to people shouting this early in the morning. I go out on the balcony and glare at them. They don’t seem to notice. Or care. Even though I’m in my pajamas and my hair is quite fearsome.

Today I am realizing there’s no point in going back to sleep and I might as well run some errands since I have the morning free.

Today I get ready without turning on the television or the radio.

Today I run errands while listening to a tape I have in the car. It’s a Hole kind of day. Courtney Love screams me around town.

Today I still don’t turn on the radio.

Today I get to my old job to help out a little since I’m up early. It is a thing I do, sometimes.

Today I walk in the door and there are people in a tangled knot around the small television in the lobby. The sound is low. No one’s at the front desk.

Today I ask one of my old coworkers what was going on.

Today she turns to me and says, “Two planes flew into the World Trade Center” and her eyes are holes in her face.

Today I ask her, “An accident? There was an accident?”

Today she says, “No. No, Amy, I don’t think so. I think it was on purpose.”

Today I stand in a crowd of people, strangers and friends alike, and we are all as one. Today we watch the television in the lobby and it grows to the size of a movie screen. Today we watch the towers fall. Today we watch news reports come in about the Pentagon. Today we watch news reports come in about a field in Pennsylvania.

Today our hands are over our eyes and our mouths. Today we are sobbing but not making a sound. Today we are praying. Today we are smelling autumn coming in through the propped-open doors of the lobby and we are running through the list of people we know in New York City and we are wondering if they also smelled this autumn morning and we are thinking, were they there? Oh, please, oh, no, oh, God, were they there?

Today I go broken and empty to my afternoon shift at work. My coworker is from Pennsylvania. I am from New York. We are barely holding it together. We are inches from screaming. We are being held together with fraying rubber bands and sheer adrenaline.

Today our boss decides we are not paying enough attention to our job and makes us turn off the television that presides with its cold unfeeling stare over the lobby.

Today we take turns shaking and vomiting and weeping in the bathroom where the clients and our boss can’t see us.

Today I get home from work and turn on the television and watch the ticker of the dead crawl along the bottom of the screen. The channel I’m watching tells the ages of those on the planes. One of the dead is just a baby. I’m having trouble breathing. Functioning. I’m watching the towers fall on endless repeat. I’m watching men leap from windows with a sort of corrupted grace. I am watching survivors painted gray with ashes stream over and over from the city I love so much. I am shaking. I am curled upon myself like a lost child. I am trying to count the dead in the ticker and I keep losing count and it seems very important, somehow, that I know how many of them there were. That each of them are counted. That each of them get given a name; that each of them get given their due.

Today, when my next-door-neighbor comes home, she asks me how I am.

Today, I tell her, “I don’t want to live in this world right now. The good got lost today.”

Today I live all of this all over again. Today and next year and the year after that; every today, I am the person I was on that day.

Today the towers fall, and they fall, and they fall; every today they fall.


A Choice Between Fire or Falling

I am not going to talk, in detail, as so many are, about what day it is today.

It is not because I have forgotten.

It is not because I am disrespectful.

It is not because I do not mourn; it is not because I am heartless; it is not because I am not patriotic; it is not because the terrorists have won.

It is because it is not my story to tell.

Did it affect me? Yes. Of course it did. I’m an American. I’m a native New Yorker. I had friends living in New York City at the time; one of them worked in the World Trade Center and got out just in time.

I was living across the country ten years ago. What I did that day is really of no consequence. Just one story, out of millions of stories. We all have them. You don’t need to hear mine.  It’s not the missing piece in the tapestry. It’s inconsequential. I did what anyone did, not living in New York City: I watched, and I despaired, and I wept. My timeline ten years ago was my own, but mirrored many others. I do not choose to share it, and I do not think you need, or care, to hear it.

It is not my story to tell, and not my place to tell it. I have no claim over the events ten years ago.

It does not mean I have forgotten them. They are just not mine, and I feel it would disrespect those who own them to lay claim to them.

The Names – Billy Collins

Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.
A soft rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,
And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,
I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,
Then Baxter and Calabro,
Davis and Eberling, names falling into place
As droplets fell through the dark.
Names printed on the ceiling of the night.
Names slipping around a watery bend.
Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.
In the morning, I walked out barefoot
Among thousands of flowers
Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears,
And each had a name —
Fiori inscribed on a yellow petal
Then Gonzalez and Han, Ishikawa and Jenkins.
Names written in the air
And stitched into the cloth of the day.
A name under a photograph taped to a mailbox.
Monogram on a torn shirt,
I see you spelled out on storefront windows
And on the bright unfurled awnings of this city.
I say the syllables as I turn a corner —
Kelly and Lee,
Medina, Nardella, and O’Connor.
When I peer into the woods,
I see a thick tangle where letters are hidden
As in a puzzle concocted for children.
Parker and Quigley in the twigs of an ash,
Rizzo, Schubert, Torres, and Upton,
Secrets in the boughs of an ancient maple.
Names written in the pale sky.
Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.
Names silent in stone
Or cried out behind a door.
Names blown over the earth and out to sea.
In the evening — weakening light, the last swallows.
A boy on a lake lifts his oars.
A woman by a window puts a match to a candle,
And the names are outlined on the rose clouds —
Vanacore and Wallace,
(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound)
Then Young and Ziminsky, the final jolt of Z.
Names etched on the head of a pin.
One name spanning a bridge, another undergoing a tunnel.
A blue name needled into the skin.
Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,
The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.
Alphabet of names in a green field.
Names in the small tracks of birds.
Names lifted from a hat
Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.
Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.
So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.
I see you again and again
tumbling out of the sky,
in your slate-grey suit and pressed white shirt.
At first I thought you were debris
from the explosion, maybe gray plaster wall
or fuselage but then I realized
that people were leaping.
I know who you are, I know
there’s more to you than just this image
on the news, this ragdoll plummeting—
I know you were someone’s lover, husband,
daddy. Last night you read stories
to your children, tucked them in, then curled into sleep
next to your wife. Perhaps there was small
sleepy talk of the future. Then,
before your morning coffee had cooled
you’d come to this; a choice between fire
or falling.
How feeble these words, billowing
in this aftermath, how ineffectual
this utterance of sorrow. We can see plainly
it’s hopeless, even as the words trail from our mouths
—but we can’t help ourselves—how I wish
we could trade them for something
that could really have caught you.

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